Sundance Review: Choke
by Alex Billington
January 22, 2008
The latest Chuck Palahniuk novel to be adapted is Choke, a film about a sex-addicted colonial theme park employee who chokes himself at restaurants to gain the life-long friendship of random strangers. This is no Fight Club, but the subject matter is not even remotely the same to begin with. However, it is a great film in its own right that entertains and delivers punches non-stop thanks to insanely brilliant Sam Rockwell. While I won't call Choke the best film of Sundance, and it doesn't play without some theme and tone issue, it is one of the better films this year.
Sam Rockwell plays Victor Mancini, the perfect fulfillment of the Palahniuk character that has had sex with almost everyone he's met and makes a living by collecting money from those who saved his life in faux choking incidents. Anjelica Huston plays Victor's mother Ida, a delusional fading elder living out her final years in a mental hospital. Whenever Victor comes to visit her she thinks he's an old lawyer and soon he discovers that his father wasn't the man his mother always told him he was. There he meets the charming Paige Marshall (Kelly Macdonald), a doctor at the hospital, and through some confusion and miscommunication comes to believe that he is the son of Jesus Christ. How, you ask? You'll have to see Choke to find that out.
While Choke delivers some great laughs based around its hilarious lead character and his friend Denny (Brad William Henke), it doesn't have that fully immersive tone and feeling like Fight Club or even Donnie Darko. While I know these are entirely different movies, they're so incredible because they have such immersive tones (and at least one is based on a Palahniuk novel). First-time filmmaker Clark Gregg doesn't achieve the same level of perfection with its tone, but instead succeeds at storytelling and comedic timing, both of which are certainly strong elements of Choke.
Overall this is certainly a film to see that I know will be a guaranteed favorite for many people, but for me, it's not on the top of my list. Clark Gregg does a great job interpreting and adapting Palahniuk's work, but I'll say it again, this is no Fight Club.